Mother shares story to in­spire school safety

The Community Connection - - OPINION -

It is a sim­ple tenet that forms the back­bone of so many fam­i­lies’ lives.

We send our kids off to school in the morn­ing with the ex­pec­ta­tion that they re­turn home safely that night.

Un­for­tu­nately, it doesn’t al­ways hap­pen that way. Just ask Alissa Parker. She knows first-hand the sheer ter­ror of know­ing that ax­iom no longer ap­plies.

That per­fect world is shat­tered with a phone call. Or a text.

That was Parker’s ex­pe­ri­ence on Dec. 14, 2012. Her 6-yearold daugh­ter, Em­i­lie, was a stu­dent at Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School in New­town, Conn.

Em­i­lie, a bub­bly first grader who in­her­ited her mom’s blond hair, was one of 20 chil­dren and six adults killed when a trou­bled young man en­tered the school with a ri­fle and opened fire.

Imag­ine the hor­ror of that day. Then imag­ine re­liv­ing it again and again.

That is the chal­lenge Alissa Parker ac­cepted. She has made it her mis­sion to make sure the lives of Em­i­lie and 19 other “an­gels” lost at Sandy Hook not be for­got­ten.

Alissa Parker co­founded an or­ga­ni­za­tion called Safe and Sound Schools, a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to mak­ing schools what they have for the most part al­ways been – a safe oa­sis for our chil­dren.

That is what brought Parker to Delaware County this week. She spoke to 250 first re­spon­ders, law en­force­ment per­son­nel, ed­u­ca­tors and school staff at the 19th an­nual Delaware County Safe Schools Sum­mit. It’s a preven­tive push that has its roots in the Columbine school shoot­ing in Lit­tle­ton, Colo. It’s been held ev­ery year since.

It is not a job that Parker wanted – no par­ent would. It is also one she can­not shy away from now. She does it for Em­i­lie.

“It’s never easy for me to tell this story,” Parker told a si­lenced crowd. “But I think there is so much we can learn from the events of that day.”

She’s right. That is why this an­nual event is so im­por­tant. Com­ing in the wake of the single dead­li­est mass shoot­ing in U.S. his­tory, the car­nage in Las Vegas that left 59 dead and 500 wounded, it is a re­minder of the dan­gers that lurk out there ev­ery day. Un­for­tu­nately, our chil­dren are no longer im­mune. In­ci­dents like Columbine and Sandy Hook stripped away the no­tion of school as a safe co­coon.

The Safe Schools Sum­mit is an ex­er­cise where ed­u­ca­tors and law en­force­ment get to­gether to think about the un­think­able.

Parker was blunt; the au­di­ence re­cep­tive.

“I won’t give up – and my dream is that you won’t,” Parker said of her mis­sion to im­prove school safety. “You’re in charge of mak­ing sure that those chil­dren and those ed­u­ca­tors come safely home to their fam­i­lies each and ev­ery day. Take that target off their back.”

Parker of­fered some con­crete pro­pos­als, based on her own tragic ex­pe­ri­ence at Sandy Hook. She re­called the last par­ent-teacher con­fer­ence she at­tended at Sandy Hook, and she re­mem­bered how eas­ily ac­cessed most class­rooms were. They did not lock from the in­side.

It was those thoughts that tor­mented her as she made her way fran­ti­cally to the school on that fate­ful day af­ter re­ceiv­ing an alert on her phone.

Parker of­fered safety sug­ges­tions to ed­u­ca­tors, and ad­vice for first re­spon­ders. She re­lated how she and other par­ents waited at the fire­house next to the school for word on their chil­dren. They waited for more than five hours.

Af­ter the Con­necti­cut gover­nor in­di­cated that the stu­dents who had been rushed to a hospi­tal had died – un­aware that par­ents had not yet been in­formed – she stressed to first re­spon­ders that “the words you use mat­ter.”

Parker of­fered sim­ple, sound ad­vice. In par­tic­u­lar the power of a locked door. She noted that in the his­tory of mass shoot­ings, there is no in­stance where a gun­man or in­truder has gone through a locked door.

Parker makes it her mis­sion, in ad­di­tion to talk­ing about school safety, to find­ing bright spots in the dark­est mo­ments.

Parker is part of the light. In that light she keeps hope – and the mem­ory of her daugh­ter – alive.

It is an hon­or­able mis­sion borne out of a story no par­ent wants to tell. Thank you, Alissa Parker, for shar­ing your courage. Em­i­lie and those 19 other “an­gels” are still shedding light on the dark­ness al­most five years later.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.